Tech Tip:Drum Miking, Part 2
By Dennis Kambury
Capturing the overall sound of the kit - as we described last week - is great, but very often you want more control and detail than your overheads mics will deliver. That's where miking the individual drums comes into play. This week, we'll explore the snare and toms, including drum treatments, mic selection, and placement.
Before you get started, tune all the drums, and keep them in tune during the session. That way, they'll sound their best, and any overdubs you may need to do will be more transparent in the overall mix.
Because of the close proximity of mic to drum, placement is extremely important to the final sound. Start with a dynamic mic such as a Shure SM57 approximately two inches from and above the rim, with the mic aimed toward the center of the batter. Have the drummer play the snare at various dynamic levels, and listen for ringing, rattling, and general tone. If the batter is ringing, use muffling rings or break out the duct tape and a handkerchief. For rattling, make sure all fittings are tight and nothing (especially the mic!) is touching the body of the drum. If you've got a loose part and tightening is not an option, pull out that duct tape again!
To keep the snap in the sound without reaching for the EQ, mic the snare side, too. Position another SM57 an inch or so from the snares, and flip the polarity switch on your mixer to reduce or remove phase cancellation with the signal from batter mic.
A good starting point for rack toms is to mic them much as you would the snare drum. Use a dynamic mic about four to six inches from the batter, angled toward the center of the head and away from other drums for a tight, close sound and good separation. A dynamic mic will also withstand high-SPL drumming and the occasional whack upside the capsule with a drumstick! However, if you're willing, able, and your drummer isn't an all-out thrasher, a good condenser offers a rich, detailed sound.
Approach the floor tom in a similar manner, but be aware of the frequency-range crossover between it and the bass drum. Be sure to direct the tom mic such that it doesn't capture the kick. Don't bother with miking the bottom of the toms - the time it takes to tweak and balance the tone is not worth what it might add to the mix.
The Shure SM57 is a real power tool for snare and tom miking. A few of these inexpensive mics in your bag of tricks are an investment you'll never regret! The Audix D2 and D3 mics can handle hot SPLs, and have a frequency response tailored for drums. Another big player in the dynamic category is the Sennheiser MD-421. It's broader frequency range works especially well with toms. In the condenser category, you can't go wrong a Neumann U-87, TLM-103, or KM-184. Check out the Audix ADX-90 clip-on mics, too.
Until Next Time
The most important tools to bring into play are your ears. Pay close attention to the sounds you're pulling in, and adjust the mics slowly - even small adjustments have a big effect on the overall tone. Spend the time at the front end getting the right sound, and you won't need to overdose on EQ later.